In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Norm Coleman just delivered a statement outside the Minnesota courtroom, addressing the breach of security on his online donors' data -- and putting the blame squarely on political opponents, who are allegedly attempting to scare Coleman's supporters out of donating.

"It is obviously an attack on this campaign," said Coleman. "But beyond that, just in terms of the campaign we're involved in a very expensive legal proceeding. Online fundraising is a very critical element of that, and clearly the theft of this information, the publication of this information undermines that. But this is more about my campaign or the ability to fund a legal effort or campaign. We do so much online. Politics today relies on online fundraising, and unfortunately we find ourselves in a situation where the level of trust and confidentially in that information is severely undermined."

Coleman attorney Fritz Knaak took questions from reporters, and claimed that the campaign became aware of a possible data breach in late January, which was investigated by the Secret Service and the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, whose analysis found that no downloads had taken place -- which leads him to believe that further hacking has taken place over time.

"We thought that we had fended off an effort at that point," said Knaak. "Clearly more efforts have occurred. Still we have every reason to believe that what was attempted in January was not successful."

The accusation made by Wikileaks.org is that the data wasn't actually hacked, but that the campaign for a few hours in January stored the entire unencrypted database of their site in a publicly-accessible location. Noah Kunin, a reporter at The Uptake, also just announced that he personally knows people who had downloaded it and told him about it at that time, and who posted the news online.

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As he signed a $410 billion spending bill that Republicans hammered for its thousands of earmarks, President Obama unveiled new proposals to shed sunlight on the practice that's known as either "pork" or "congressionally directed spending" -- depending on whether you're talking to its critics or its defenders.

Earmarks have undoubtedly been misused and abused over the years, both by disgraced lawmakers (see Cunningham, Randy "Duke") and lobbyists (see Abramoff, Jack). The process' inherent risk of influence-peddling makes it no easy task to defend earmarks -- and sure enough, Obama's attempt to defend the practice fell flat with its chief Senate critics, Russ Feingold (D-WI) and John McCain (R-AZ).

Feingold and McCain's unmoved reactions to the presidential earmark fueled some critical media coverage, with the Politico headlining its story "Obama goes soft on pork".

Did Obama offer little more than a band-aid on the growth of earmarks?

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South Carolina Republican chairman Katon Dawson has moved to quash a report that he's behind an effort to kick out Michael Steele, sending this statement to Jim Geraghty:

I support Michael Steele. Our Committee elected him knowing that he can lead us during this critical time for our Party. The people behind this anonymous rumor are clearly intent on dividing the Republican National Committee and our Party at a time when we need to be united.


It may well be true that Dawson isn't behind any attempt to boot Steele. On the other hand, he hasn't done a particularly sterling job of supporting him, either, recently telling the Politico that he would be doing things differently -- that it wouldn't have taken him as long to transfer some money to the House and Senate campaign committees. And Geraghty has heard conflicting accounts from GOP insiders -- that Dawson either doesn't seem inclined to challenge Steele, or that he's likely to do it.

But again, it is absolutely true that saying you'd be doing a better job is not necessarily the same as actively plotting against somebody.

The Franken legal team is postponing the resting of their case -- which lead attorney Marc Elias had announced yesterday evening would be happening today -- due to logistical difficulties in bringing in some witnesses.

Franken lawyer Kevin Hamilton told the judges that he has another absentee voter whose ballots has been rejected, ready to come in tomorrow. And he's been trying to line up testimony by the Clay County auditor.

"We would be prepared to provisionally rest at some point tomorrow," Hamilton said, "once we get that remaining testimony in, and allow the case to move forward."

On the one hand, a couple loose ends have introduced a slight delay into the process. But on the other hand, this is still way ahead of when anyone would have predicted the Franken camp resting their case.

Also, the court has just handed down a ruling to allow the counting of 14 ballots from a petition brought by a group of Franken-voters. There were 61 people involved in the original petition, for which the court initially granted permission to 24 a month ago, then rescinded permission on three a little over a week ago, and is now adding in 14 after additional evidence was submitted -- a total of 35 Franken-voters in this action who have been granted permission for now to have their ballots opened and counted at a later date.

The Obama administration has ordered a wide-ranging review of the signing statements that his predecessor frequently used to sidestep congressional edicts -- but that's not stopping the president from issuing one of his own.

After Obama signed the $410 spending bill that keeps the government funded until October, the White House released a statement outlining its take on the constitutionality of several of the bill's provisions.

Perhaps the most notable portion of the statement gives Obama room to reallocate money as he sees fit without abiding by the spending bill's requirement to first get approval from Congress:

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If I was a gambling man, I would bet that Michael Steele is going to make it.

I realize that he's not popular, that a lot of people in the Republican Party would like to see him go and as Josh Marshall pointed out he doesn't have a single, solid constituency like the conservative Christian activists or state party chairs united behind him.

But look at Roland Burris. I point to him not because of race, although surely the forcible removal of the first African-American chairman of the Republican National Committee would have racial overtones. Burris is arguably much less popular among his peers than Steele is with the Republican National Committee members who elected him RNC Chairman in January. Burris seems like a goner just a few weeks ago. Now, he's a Senate regular and his ouster seems unlikely in the extreme.

Still it's worth examining just what the party rules say about removing a chairman if it comes to that. If you look at Rule 5 of the RNC rules it says explicitly: "The chairman or co- chairman may be removed from office only by a two- thirds (2/3) vote of the entire Republican National Committee." The ballot has to be open under Roberts Rules of Order which is the playbook for RNC rules--which is kind of amusing given the opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act. That is a pretty high bar.

And the vote could only come--as best I can tell; I have a call into the RNC-- at one of the two semiannual meetings of the RNC. Thus, you couldn't have a phone coup d'etat or the Executive Committee of the RNC lead the fight.

Can Steele hold a third of RNC members? My bet is yes although the fact that it's even a question is pretty amazing.

By the way, the shortest chairmanship of the RNC ever was C. Wesley Roberts of Kansas who served four months as chair in 1953. According to Wikipedia, Alvin Scott of The Kansas City Star won a Pulitzer Prize in 1954 for local reporting for a series of articles that drove Roberts to resign. Roberts was accused of collecting a $10,000 commission on the sale of a hospital to the State of Kansas which the state already owned. His son, interestingly, is U.S. Senator Pat Roberts.

Remember Ted Haggard, the politically powerful megachurch pastor from Colorado who's career came crashing down in a male-prostitution scandal in late 2006? Haggard has since moved on -- he's no longer a preacher, but is instead working as an insurance salesman -- and seems to be adjusting to an undesired place in pop culture.

Time Out New York reports that Haggard attended the performance of a play called The Beautiful City, all about evangelical culture in Colorado. And an important plot point in the play is...the downfall of Ted Haggard.

Haggard kept a low profile, with the cast not knowing he was there, although the crew knew about it. Artistic director Steven Cosson said: "And they would come back and say, 'Oh, he laughed at this line. He smiled at that. He's sticking around for the second act.'"

Haggard and his wife were also accompanied to the show by a friend of theirs: Alexandra Pelosi, daughter of Nancy Pelosi, who made the HBO documentary The Trials of Ted Haggard, plus Alexandra's husband.

Haggard didn't bask in any limelight, though. He, his wife and the Pelosis were the first to leave the theater after the play was over, and Pelosi was overheard saying, "I didn't understand the point."

Three House Democratic committee chairmen -- Henry Waxman (CA) at Energy & Commerce, Charles Rangel (NY) at Ways & Means, and George Miller (CA) at Education & Labor -- have just sent a letter to President Obama vowing to work together on health care reform legislation that can become law this year.

The letter is notable for its emphasis on a uniform, coordinated timetable to ensure that turf battles over committee jurisdiction do not slow down the debate over health reform. The still-unwritten climate change bill, by contrast, is already the subject of some jockeying for position by Rangel and Waxman.

Also, the House chairmen's letter contains stronger indications of a coordinated effort than a similar missive sent to Obama by the Senate's key chairmen on health care, Max Baucus (D-MT) and Ted Kennedy (D-MA).

The senators declared their "continuing commitment to enacting comprehensive health care reform this year," while their House counterparts committed specifically to "work from a harmonized approach [in their committees] to ensure success." There was some initial concern on the Hill that Baucus and Kennedy would butt heads as both committees moved forward with health care, but the Boston Globe reported this week that the two are working well together.

You can read the House chairmen's full letter after the jump.

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Has Michael Steele's bumbling reached a critical mass that it will cost him the chairmanship of the RNC -- or will he just keep on bumbling instead?

The latest bad news for Steele is a report that certain Republicans may be plotting a coup against him, a no-confidence vote to be held after the March 31 special election for Kirsten Gillibrand's former House seat is out of the way.

In an interview with Cal Thomas, Steele dismissed any call for a resignation. "No!" he shouted. "And shame on [those] who should have the cojones to at least come and talk to me." And here's how he characterized his detractors: "The mice who are scurrying about the Hill are upset because they no longer have access to the cheese, so they don't know what's going on."

Meanwhile, Mike Allen thinks Steele isn't leaving any time in the immediate future. However, the real test will be when the fundraising numbers come in for the next two quarters.

Granted, there have been some foul-ups so far. It's been just under a month and a half since Steele became RNC chairman, and in that time he has, among other things:

• Promised a new "off the hook" image for the Republican Party, appealing to "hip-hop settings."

• Gone back and forth on threatening to cut off financial support for pro-stimulus Republicans, and attracted criticism from Senators for doing so.

• And of course, he disassociated himself from Rush Limbaugh, was then attacked by Limbaugh, and then apologized to Limbaugh and praised his leadership. And he was later denounced by Joe The Plumber.

The question, then, is to what degree the anti-Steele push may be coming from people who were against him to begin with, and thus see an opening, and how much political capital there may be among the rest of the GOP to either keep or dump him.

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TPM alum Spencer Ackerman points to a genuinely inexplicable revenue-raising move being considered by the Obama administration: charging veterans through their private health insurance companies for injuries suffered during their service.

Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Eric Shinseki confirmed yesterday that the administration is weighing whether to start charging veterans for their combat-related injuries -- an admission that got strongly shot down by both Democratic and Republican senators.

It's worth noting that progressives hammered Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) during his presidential bid last year for suggesting that veterans should be able to seek private treatment for health problems unrelated to their service. Should the Obama VA follow through with the plan it's now considering, it would arguably be moving farther right than McCain on the sensitive question of privatizing veterans' health care.

Late Update: The Navy Times offers more background on the private-insurance proposal under consideration by the Obama VA, explaining:

Whether private insurers would pay anything [on service-related claims] would depend on their policies on serving as the second payer on medical expenses. Some insurance policies cover such costs and others do not.

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